Another deadline passes for MN leaders’ talk of special session for health care, tax cuts

Published 10:30 am Thursday, December 8, 2016

By David Montgomery

St. Paul Pioneer Press

Minnesota’s leaders continue to negotiate over a possible special legislative session, as their latest self-imposed deadline came and went with no agreement.

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DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders of each party want to bring the Legislature back this month to pass infrastructure funding that didn’t get done this spring and a tax cut package that Dayton vetoed. They also want to pass temporary relief for Minnesotans facing rising health insurance premiums on the state’s individual market.

Even though there’s bipartisan agreement that all three of these things should be done, Democrats and Republicans have not yet agreed on the specifics — and haven’t been able to in on-again, off-again negotiations since May.

The two sides seemed on the verge of a breakthrough last Friday, when a closed-door meeting ended with smiles and news that a deal was “close.”

A few details remained to be ironed out, which leaders said could — and must — happen quickly.

“Wednesday is the deadline for that — so we know where we stand, we know what we agree on, we know what we still don’t agree on,” Dayton said last week.

That turned out to be just the latest missed deadline after months of false alarms.

Instead, the news from leadership Wednesday was that negotiations would continue.

“I never saw today as a definite deadline,” Dayton said Wednesday.

The real, final deadline to reach an agreement for a special session this year could be next Wednesday, Dec. 14. That would give staff time to prepare bill language by Friday so lawmakers and the public could review it that weekend. Under this timeline, lawmakers would return Dec. 20 to pass the three bills.

“I think we might get that done Dec. 20,” said incoming Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa. “We’re not that far apart.”

Gazelka, who spoke to the governor Wednesday morning, said he gives the special session an 80 percent change of coming to fruition. He said lawmakers and the administration are still working through exactly what should be in a statewide borrowing bill, which lawmakers assembled but failed to send to the governor’s office last spring.

The newly elected Legislature is scheduled to start its regular session Jan. 3, and could take up some of these issues then. The health insurance relief, at least, has a time pressure, since the new insurance plans Minnesotans are buying at high rates take effect Jan. 1.